I used to review curriculum, now I create it

How to Feed, Raise, and Care for Butterflies: A Video Lesson

Have you ever tried raising your own butterflies as a school project? We have done it for a few years now and have had mixed results. Most years we only have a few of the caterpillars make it to the butterfly stage but this year ALL FIVE of our butterflies survived and were happy to be our little “specimens” for a few days until we released them.

How to Raise, Feed and Care for Butterflies: a Video Lesson

It has taken me a lot of trial and unfortunate error to find out the best way to care for our butterflies and I have found that the instructions they come with are not successful so I decided to lay it all out for you… here’s what works for us!

Butterfly Larvae: How to Care for your Caterpillars

The first step for caring for your butterflies is to make sure they have enough food. Usually when we purchase them separately in their little containers they have more than enough. However this year we bought a container of five together and they ate through it all and had no food for over a day. If you are concerned about the amount of food make sure you have something on hand (we had Painted Lady butterflies and the larvae eats milkweed).

When you purchase your larvae they will most likely tell you the TINY little pill container you get them in is big enough. They advise you not to touch it and to just transfer the lid to your butterfly container once the chrysalis forms. We tried this the first two years and only had about a 50% success rate.

I recommend putting your container(s) right into your butterfly cage and opening the lid. Let them move around, explore, eat when they want, have room to make waste and their silk in some space with some fresh air. This year we put the whole thing in and just took the lid off and had 100% success rate! I attribute it entirely to this!

I purchased a large butterfly cage as we had 5 butterflies and we put the recommended paper towel on the bottom of the lid for them to attach to. NOT ONE of them attached to it. They attached to the zipper and the side netting only. So honestly, I feel like this was a waste of time and effort, just put them in and let them at ‘er. They really don’t need anything else from you!

Interesting Facts About Butterflies

The caterpillars will live about 7-10 days before they turn into a chrysalis at which point their skin splits open and the chrysalis is actually UNDER their skin! (point out the ball of spiky skin leftover).

They are in the chrysalis for about as long as they are in the caterpillar stage before they emerge. During which time their bodies completely LIQUIFY and reform into a butterfly!

See the red drops after a butterfly emerges? That is called meconium, it is the liquid that was surrounding the butterfly in their pupa.

A painted lady butterfly will live about 2 weeks during which time she eats, lays her eggs, and dies, starting the cycle all over again.

Butterflies taste with their feet!

 The long tube “coil” that comes out from a butterfly to suck up nectar is called a “proboscis“

How to Care for your Butterflies

Once your butterflies emerge you need to feed them! I made my own “nectar” with 1/2 cup of sugar heated up in a pot with 1 cup of water. Just before it boils, the sugar liquifies and the liquid turns clear, take it off the heat to cool. Then add a few drops of soya sauce (yup, you heard me right, think of it as Gatorade for butterflies!) and soak some cotton balls.

How to Feed Butterflies: Make your Own Nectar

Now, I found that my butterflies didn’t find it to eat, it was very “flowery” looking. So I picked them up and placed them on the cotton. Once they tasted it (walked on it) they were happy to eat.

It is safe to pick up a butterfly, you won’t hurt them if you do it by the outside of their wings and wash your hands well before. I took a little video to show you how it is done (please note I refer to a butterfly “emerging” from the chrysalis as “hatch” in the video which is not correct. It is scientifically referred to as “emerge”).

We only kept ours a few days to feed them, observe and then released them. It was such a fun experiment and a fantastic way to learn about life cycles at the same time!

What Class “Specimens” Have YOU had in your Homeschool?


  1. We’ve done butterflies TWICE and really enjoyed it. Ants were boring about 1-2 days and ladybugs were not exciting at.all. But really enjoy raising butterflies. I dunno… just something about watching them that we all enjoy!

    • Good to know, I haven’t done ants or ladybugs yet, we can’t get ladybug eggs in Canada, or at least I can’t find where. Good to know we aren’t missing out too much. If you are wanting something INSANE…. get a praying mantis egg. It is really really fun! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. We did painted ladies last year – and had a 75% failure rate with 20 caterpillars 🙁 They spent quite a bit longer in the larvae stage than the instructions said, and some of them were emerging on the morning we were leaving on vacation! Luckily our vacation was a cottage so we just took them along and released them there. Fun to travel with a butterfly cage LOL!

    I think we will try again next year, I’ll have to check back here again before we do and try it your way 🙂

  3. Thank you Spooner family for this awesome post. Such helpful advice. I will keep these posts in a file and then enter them in your planner in the fall. They will count for school year 2015-16.

  4. Hi there and thanks for your great posts. I just wanted to let you know that painted butterfly caterpillars host plant is actually thistles, not milkweed. Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed. The scientific term is also to “eclose” (when they emerge from their chrysalis). Butterflies also don’t need to eat for the first 24-48 hours. Thanks again for your great posts and I hope you take these pointers in the nature they we’re intended which is simply to educate ☮️

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I used to review curriculum, now I create it!